At the beginning of the 1990's, few foreigners dared set foot in Peru for fear of terrorism, cholera and street crime, all of which were rampant throughout this Andean nation. But now, with Peru undergoing a dramatic turnaround in its political and economic situation, tourists are arriving in droves. Last year, a record 485,000 foreigners visited Peru, a 26 percent increase over 1994. Cholera is under control, terrorism is in decline with the capture of the leaders of the Shining Path movement, and the economy is on the rebound.
Last year, after a government crackdown brought a sharp drop in the number of terrorist attacks, the State Department stopped warning American tourists of the dangers of travel in Peru. Although a New York woman was recently sentenced to life in prison for her illicit association with a Peruvian terrorist group, State Department officials said Americans have nothing to fear in visiting Peru and interacting with its citizens.
While most tourists travel to Peru to see the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, visitors must first pass through Lima, the capital, which is undergoing a rebirth that many Peruvians hope will restore the luster that terrorism dimmed.
Nowhere is this renewal more evident than in the Miraflores, San Isidro and Barranco districts, which are buzzing day and night and are full of surprises. New art galleries, bars, restaurants, taverns and night spots have opened in these districts, and there is now an active night life where several years ago many Limenos did not venture out after dark.
The best time to visit is during the Southern Hemisphere's summer, now through April, when the city enjoys bright sunshine and cool nights. Although most tourists pass through without incident, street crime, especially pickpocketing and purse-snatching, are still common. Lima officials advise tourists to travel in groups, and not to wear flashy jewelry or otherwise call attention to themselves.
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The Peru Negro Ballet, acclaimed in Europe and Latin America, symbolizes the best in Peruvian black music and dance and is performing this year at the Manos Morenas restaurant, (511) 467-4902, fax (511) 467-0421, 409 Pedro de Osma, in Barranco, on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 10. Admission is $15 and includes a typical meal of fish, seafood or stewed meats.
In Peru, the grape is a cherished fruit, the source of fine wines and a classic cocktail called the pisco sour, which is prepared with grape brandy, lemon, sugar, egg white and ice. No wonder Lima's working-class district of Surco holds an annual grape harvest festival. This year's, from March 13 to 20, includes wine tastings and street fairs. For information, call (511) 477-2325.
The Instituto Riva Aguero, 459 Camana, will present an exhibit entitled "The Blacks of Peru" during March, from 2 to 8 P.M. Monday to Friday. The exhibit will recount the experiences of the first blacks to arrive in Peru from the Antilles and the Caribbean.
Cultural and artistic events are often announced only a week or two before they occur, so visitors are advised to check listings in The Lima Times, published on Friday.
The heart of the city is the Plaza de Armas, or main square, which contains a variety of Colonial government buildings and churches, notably the Government Palace, also called Pizarro's House, which has a colorful changing of the presidential guard at 12:30 P.M. The plaza also contains a spectacular 17th-century cathedral, open Monday to Friday, 10 A.M. to 1 P.M. and 2 to 5 P.M., and Saturday 10 A.M. to 3:45 P.M. The cathedral is outstanding for its intricately carved choir chairs, 17th-and 18th-century paintings, and altars. On the streets surrounding the plaza are many Colonial buildings with exquisite wooden balconies.
Lima has a striking coastline, called the Costa Verde even though it is actually brown and not green. The best view is at the end of Ave nida Larco in Miraflores, where the entire Pacific coastline from Chorrillos to La Punta is visible. Down below is a succession of beaches with sports fields, private clubs, discos and expensive restaurants. In summer the beaches are packed with sunbathers and surfers, though some of the waters are not clean.
Perhaps Lima's most romantic neighborhood is Barranco, once a wealthy beach resort and now home to many of Peru's best known artists and writers. Its tree-lined streets leading to the sea front, Colonial-style mansions and houses, and tranquil plazas evoke times past. The Puente de Los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) is a picturesque lookout.
A good way to experience Peruvian folk music and dancing is to visit a pena, a small night club, open from 11:30 P.M. till dawn. Popular ones are: Sachun, 657 Avenida del Ejercito, (511) 441-0123, Miraflores; Brisas del Titicaca, 168 Jr. Wakulski, (511) 423,7405; and La Estacion de Barranco, 112 Pedro de Osma, Barranco; no telephone. Admission is $5 to $10.
Lima has many celebrated museums, including the splendid National Museum of Anthropology and Archeology and the Museo de Oro, a dazzling collection of Inca and pre-Inca gold. The most impressive of Lima's many archeological sites is Pachacamac, a vast pre-Inca and Inca site 18 miles south of Lima on the Pan American Highway. The spot is dedicated to the Pachacamac god known as the maker of universe, and has a large adobe pyramid built in A.D. 1350, a reconstructed "temple of the virgins," and a small museum. Pachacamac is reachable by car or taxi or with tours arranged at major hotels and travel agencies. The ruins, (511) 430-5607, are open daily from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. Admission $1.50; there are guided tours in English.
If you fancy hand-carved, Colonial wooden furniture of the style that once graced Peru's castles and fine houses, visit the Taller de Arte Colonial, 110 Malecon Castilla in Barranco, (511) 467-7589. This factory, open Monday to Saturday 9 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. and from 3 to 7 P.M., has an impressive collection of chairs, chests, dining tables, picture frames, and other furniture at reasonable prices. Visitors can watch the craftsman at work or view a superb model collection of wooden passenger jets representing the major airlines of the world.
Where to Stay
All hotel prices in Peru are subject to a value added tax of 28 percent.
The 134 spacious, pastel-toned rooms at El Olivar, 122 Merino, (511) 221-2121, fax (511) 221-2141, in a tranquil section of Miraflores, have a view of the Olivar Forest. Doubles are $180.
At Hotel Ariosto, 769 La Paz, Miraflores, (511) 444-1414, fax (511) 444-3955, a double room with breakfast and tax is $147. The clean, efficient hotel has a small but inviting lobby and 110 rooms simply decorated with Colonial furniture.
The Lima Sheraton, 170 Paseo de la Republica, (511) 433-3320, fax (511) 433-6344, has 498 rooms, at $185 for a double. It is downtown in a noisy, high-crime section.
Budget: The 83 rooms of Hotel Jose Antonio, 298 Avenida 28 de Julio, Miraflores, (511) 446-8295, fax (511) 446-6705, have double or king-size beds and basic furniture. Rooms on the seventh and eight floors have views of the ocean. The lobby is modern, with large windows. A double costs $121, including tax.
El Marques Hotel, 461 Chinchon, San Isidro, (511) 442-0047, fax (511) 442-0043, has 42 Spanish-style rooms with Colonial furniture. The hotel is in a quiet residential neighborhood but close to a commercial center. A double is $85.
Luxury: Hotel Las Americas, 415 Avenida Benavides, (511) 444-7272, fax (511) 444-1137, is a modern high-rise, centrally situated in the garden suburb of Miraflores. It has 151 pastel-colored rooms with teak furniture and Peruvian prints. The lobby bar and fifth-floor lounge are cozy. The hotel has a small gym and pool, and is a short walk to the beach. A double is $236, including tax.
Cesar's, corner of La Paz and Diez Canseco, (511) 444-1212, fax (511) 444-4440, is a quiet luxury hotel with a spacious lobby, homey tea room, a pool and sauna in Miraflores near shopping and business districts. Its 150 rooms have traditional wood and leather furniture. A double is $262, including tax. Where to Eat
Peru has a rich, diverse cuisine dating back to the ancient Incas, with Spanish, African, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and European influences. There are dozens of variations of spicy fish, shellfish, stewed meat, tamale and potato dishes. In the past few years, many excellent restaurants have